directions in french

Feeling Disoriented? How to Master Asking for and Giving Directions in French

Asking for directions is one of the most important elements of basic French conversation, especially when you’re new to a French-speaking city.

We can help you become the human version of French Google Maps (which, by the way, is a great resource for learning vocab and seeing how directions are written in French!).

Once you master the structures, nail down vocabulary and explore enough on your own, you may even end up giving directions yourself!

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What Are the Major French Direction Words and Phrases…and How Do I Use Them?

Whether you’re heading somewhere en bus (by bus), par train (by train), en voiture (by car) or à pied (by foot), it’s crucial to know how to use the correct words and phrases.

Otherwise, how will you find anything, or, even more importantly, locate l‘aéroport (the airport) or la gare (the train station) to begin your French journey?

But before you get way ahead of yourself, make sure you lock down these phrases before purchasing un billet (a ticket).

Tout droit

One of the most important direction phrases is tout droit, which means “straight ahead.” Used in a sentence, it’s often repeated a few times, sometimes with the tout repeated for emphasis:

“Oui, oui, juste tout tout droit.” (Yes, just straight ahead.)

How it’s used:

“Où sont les toilettes ?” (Where is the bathroom?)

“Il faut aller tout droit.” (Go straight ahead.)

À droite

“To the right” is rather self-explanatory, but what gets tricky here is the pronunciation. It’s imperative to note that droit in the direction phrase tout droit is pronounced /dʀwa/, while, due to the “e” at the end (indicating that you should pronounce all the letters in the word rather than cutting off the ending), droite should be pronounced /dʀwat/, with the “t” sound at the end. (For more information on the International Phonetic Alphabet and how to read it, visit their website).

As you first begin to use these direction words, pay special attention to this, as it’s the difference between going straight and turning right. Three straights don’t necessarily make a right!

How it’s used:

“Excusez-moi, je cherche la boulangerie.” (Excuse me, I’m looking for the bakery.)

“Si vous allez tout droit, puis à droite à la Rue Verte, elle est au coin de la rue.” (If you go straight ahead, then take a right at the Rue Verte, it’s at the corner.)

À gauche

There’s no similar confusion on pronunciation here. À gauche simply means “to the left.” Pronunciation is exactly like the word “gauche” in English—which means something completely different (lacking ease or grace).

How it’s used:

“Où est le pont ?” (Where is the bridge?)

“Prenez à gauche au parc.” (Take a left at the park.)

Nord, sud, ouest, est 

The cardinal directions above (north, south, west, east) are useful in the city, when you’re familiar with the way the streets run and you know that Montmartre and the Sacre Coeur are north of the Louvre and the Tuileries.

A lot of locals will use the cardinal directions to tell you where to go, because, naturally, they’re familiar with the city and how it’s laid out.

Of course, if you’re spending the day out hiking, these directions will be your only option—so either way, they’re necessary!

How they’re used:

“Est-ce qu’il y a un restaurant à côté ?” (Is there a restaurant close by?)

“Il y a un restaurant italien au sud de la gare.” (There’s an Italian restaurant south of the train station.)

Près de/à côté (de)

Just as important as knowing whether to turn right or left is identifying landmarks in relation to other landmarks. Près deor “close to,” along with à côté, is a phrase that will help you do just that.

Note that the preposition de contracts with le and les to make du and des respectively. This applies to the expressions above as well as to the other expressions in this post.

How it’s used:

(See the above example for à côté.)

“L’église est près du métro.” (The church is close to the metro.)

En face de

En face de (in front of) is another great direction word that will help you find your location while looking for landmarks and important places nearby.

How it’s used:

“La maison est en face de l’église.” (The house is in front of the church.)

Au coin de

This one’s a bit more specific, but you might hear this phrase, meaning “at the corner of,” in the city.

How it’s used:

“Il y a un supermarché au coin de ma rue.” (There’s a supermarket on my street corner.)

How Do I Get to Paris? Ways to Ask for Directions

Où est

The simplest and quickest way to ask where something is located in French is to start the sentence with Où est… or “Where is…”

Looking for the post office?

“Où est la poste ?” 

The nearest coffee shop?

“Où est le café ?” 

The library?

“Où est la bibliothèque ?”

It’s quick, easy to pronounce and gets straight to the point.

Est-ce que

This structure will be useful when you’re using basic question words like qui (who), quoi (what), quand/où (when),  (where) and comment (how), and really, when you’re asking most questions.

Est-ce que functions as the “is/are/does” in a sentence like “Where is the church?” or “How does one get to Paris?”

For example:

“Où est-ce que je peux trouver la gare ?” (Where can I find the train station?)

“Comment est-ce qu’on peut aller au centre ville ?” (How can one get to the center of the city?)

Inverted subject-verb

One way to ask a question in French is to reverse the subject and verb and connect them with a hyphen. We do something similar in English.

For example:

“Puis-je aller au magasin ?” (Can I go to the store?)

This will come in handy when asking for directions, especially when you’re wanting to avoid using the sometimes long-winded Est-ce que but still would like to be polite.

“Pouvez-vous me dire comment aller à Notre Dame ?” (Can you tell me how to get to Notre Dame?)

Appropriate Transition Words for Giving and Understanding Directions

Puis

Puisor “then,” is a simple transition word that is used when giving consecutive directions.

How it’s used: 

“Prenez à droite, puis allez tout droit.” (Go right, then go straight ahead.)

Après

Après, or “after,” has functionality similar to puis.

How it’s used: 

“Prenez à droite, et après, allez tout droit.” (Go right, and after that, go straight ahead.)

Enfin

If you’re receiving a set of directions that’s particularly long, you may hear enfinor “finally.”

How it’s used: 

“Prenez à droite, puis allez tout droit, et, enfin, prenez à gauche au parc.”

(Go right, then go straight ahead, and finally, take a left at the park.)

 

Now that you’ve mastered French directions, you’re free to hop on your avion (plane) or bateau (boat), and start your travel adventure!

But if you’re still not feeling comfortable enough in French to figure out your way around a foreign country, you can review more everyday phrases and questions using French language learning apps or online classes.

It can help a lot to hear and see native French speakers using phrases like the ones above in context. You can get this exposure through French videos on YouTube or by learning French using FluentU.

FluentU is a language learning app that uses authentic videos like movie trailers, interviews and music videos to teach you French the way native speakers use it in their own media.

Each video on FluentU has interactive captions that let you review the translation and pronunciation of words and phrases while you watch. You can sort videos by topic, letting you find content that’s specific to travel.

So hopefully now, armed with all these phrases and resources, you’re feeling prepared and excited for your French vacation.

Good luck—and bon voyage !


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